Every person with half an excuse showed up in the morning to see them off. Prince Sanbralio’s personal guards escorted them to the outskirts of the city. Then they settled into a regular traveling pattern. Nita pushed for a faster pace than usual. The journey home didn’t take nearly as long as the journey out. That suited Jerryck. He would see his family all that much sooner, and even the faster trip was still too long. When they arrived at Coraline Palace, Jerryck skipped as much of the homecoming celebration as he could manage. Still weary from traveling, he had to attend meetings the next day to update everyone on everything that had happened. Fortunately, Nita took care of most of that. And he didn’t have to report his failure to find a magician powerful enough to poison the river until Terrance dismissed the general staff, and took the core staff into the small council chamber. After that report, Jerryck leaned his elbows on the table, chin in hands, and tuned everything out, daydreaming about his next experiment and what he could do with the time he could now spend with his family. “How dare you!” Lalven’s eruption interrupted Jerryck’s reverie. Lalven was standing, leaning both hands on the table, his face twisted into a snarl as he leaned toward Nita. “You don’t have the authority to make that kind of an appointment.” “What appointment?” Jerryck asked. “He’s mad that I appointed Tajor as an adviser,” Nita said. “Oh, that.” Jerryck relaxed again. Nita sat calmly by her father. She said, “Shontarra isn’t like here. Nobles aren’t supposed to talk to anyone, not even their bodyguards, unless they’re an adviser. I had to do something.” “And you did something stupid!” Lalven leaned closer in. “Only I can approve advisory positions, and I would never approve someone as common and defiant as that man!” “The final decision is mine, not yours,” Terrance said. From where he stood, he put his arm on the table in front of his daughter. “Nita is my heir, and your future sovereign.” “Her future husband is your heir,” Lalven said. “Again, my decision, not yours.” “This is the law, Terrance. Not a decision.” “There’s no law that says a woman cannot be a ruling queen,” Terrance said. Lalven drew breath to say more. Terrance tapped his fingers on the table and continued, “We’re not getting into this right now. You’re not going to use Nita’s actions to push your opinions. Especially not when I would have done the exact same thing in her position.” “You would have chosen someone better than that man.” Lalven glowered. Then he glared at Jerryck.“Why won’t you pay more attention. You were there. You could have prevented this.” “Why would he prevent a good decision?” Terrance countered. “I’ve been watching Tajor. Heston was right to initiate him into the elite. I’m impressed with his honesty and his insights. I’ve already put a lot of thought into giving him an advisory position.” “Surely not!” Lalven said. “He has no ties to even minor nobility. He’s completely common!” “So was Lord Jerryck.” Terrance flicked a hand at him. “What? Me?” Jerryck looked back and forth between the two of them. “I’m not an adviser.” “You’re a minor noble, without any ties to other nobility,” Terrance said. “You excel. I believe Tajor will as well.” “Please don’t compare me to Tajor,” Jerryck said. “There, you see.” Lalven tipped his nose up. “Even he knows better.” Jerryck frowned at Lalven. “Know better than what? Tajor’s a lot smarter than I am. And hopefully I’m not nearly as annoying. And even if I am, I don’t do it on purpose like he does.” “He’s annoying because his questions sometimes make you dig out facts you don’t necessarily like, or look at truths you don’t want to face,” Nita said. “Which is exactly what’s needed in an adviser.” “I suppose,” Jerryck admitted. “And if being annoying is what makes for a good adviser, than Tajor probably would make the best one of all.” Terrance laughed and said, “After we’re through in here, I’ll send for him and make his new position more official.” Lalven held up a hand in a gesture to wait. “Before you do that…” “I’m through discussing this,” Terrance said. “With you or anyone else in this room. I’m moving this meeting to the next item…” Jerryck relaxed and quit paying attention again. This time, instead of daydreaming, he turned his thoughts to his responsibilities, making a mental list of chores now that he’d return home from such a long absence. The charms that alerted him to various conditions or people would need checked. The spells in the dungeons would probably need some maintenance. Some of his regular patients would want a check up. On top of that, a pile of requests for odd jobs had already come to him from the various residents of the palace. The meeting ended with Terrance calling a page to send Tajor to his office. Everyone else went about their business. Jerryck tackled his chores. First, he re-energized all the charms above outside doors that were connected to his alert system. If there was a small task that wouldn’t take too long within the vicinity of one of those, he got it done. Then he went around to visit with his regular patients, taking too long with some of them who seemed to just want him to listen to complaints about medics. After that, he started down the list of requests people had sent him. All in all, he stayed so busy, the rest of the afternoon flashed by. It certainly was good to be back home. # Jerryck was in the kitchen, charming a new set of plates to make them resistant to breaking, the smells of supper cooking making him salivate, when a page called him to the king’s office. He set the dishes aside and went immediately. Lalven and Nita were seated in the chairs before Terrance’s desk, avoiding eye contact. Tajor stood to one side. When all the rest of the core staff gathered, Terrance sat on the front edge of his desk and spoke. “I’m going to explain this once to all of you, and I don’t want a single complaint from anyone.” He eyed Nita and Lalven closely. “Tajor refuses the position of adviser.” “Why?” Nita glared at Tajor, while Lalven straightened up with a smug expression. “Irrelevant,” Terrance said. “He explained his reasons to me. That’s enough for now. When you come of age, he’ll explain it to you. Regardless, so far as everyone is concerned, they will treat him as though he’s on the staff of the secondary advisers.” “Why?” Now Lalven glared at Tajor, his smugness gone. “Because I want it,” Terrance said. He laced his fingers together in front of himself. “Nita, he’s yours. Consult with him as often as you like.” Lalven gripped the arms of his chair. “That’s an adult privilege. She can’t have an official adviser until she’s fifteen.” “That’s not very far off,” Terrance said. “And he’s not an official adviser. He’s only acting as one.” Jerryck glanced at the door. Was he going to be allowed to leave if this turned into a screaming match between the two? Fortunately, Heston broke the tension between them with a different complication. “And his duties with the elite?” “He’s still one of yours,” Terrance told Heston. “Officially, Nita’s secondary riding escort, just as before.” “I don’t have any say in this at all?” Lalven said petulantly. “You had your say. What you don’t have is my authority to make the decision.” Terrance stood. “Only one last thing: Jerryck, Tajor is also available to you.” “What for?” Jerryck asked. “For whatever.” Terrance shrugged. “You both have complete access to each other’s time and company. You listen to him. Is that clear?” “All of the elite go through special training exercises,” Heston said to Jerryck. “Please don’t ask for him while he’s in the middle of one.” “How long do they take?” Jerryck asked. “Sometimes a few hours,” Heston said. “Sometimes a few days.” “Then just tell me when he’s doing one,” Jerryck said. “Then I won’t ask for him.” Terrance smiled. “Do you intend to ask for him at all?” “I… Well… Um…” Jerryck looked around the room. There was no point in trying to hide it. These people knew him too well. “Not really.” Terrance laughed and dismissed everyone. Nita left with a smile. Lalven left with a frown. Heston left with a grip on Tajor’s arm, leading him out and whispering to him. No one else seemed to care in the least. Jerryck left the office just in time for the call to supper. He ate with his nieces and nephews at the long, pine tables in the common dining hall, then got back to work. There was so much of a backlog of tasks it took him about a week of steady, non-stop work to get caught up. Each day he spent hours checking on the various spells in the palace, making sure to spare at least some time for various requests people gave him, and accepting still more as he tried to catch up. Each night he fell into bed in weary exhaustion. His wife and sister made sure he ate regularly, which kept his energy from flagging too low. They didn’t even scold him for missing meals. They just put food in front of him and told him to eat.